Re: human sacrifice

Julia E Smith (
20 Sep 1996 13:46:05 GMT

In article <51tsci$l9f@oravannahka.Helsinki.FI>,
Kristoffer Lindqvist <> wrote:
[Lots of stuff about human sacrifice as protein source]

> This seems to make sense given the fact that one of the major problems
> for indians in Latinamerica has always been to get enough food, particularly
> protein, since hunting in tropical rain forests isn€t very productive
> due to a number of factors (most animals live above the ground, many are
> active only at night, the tropical forests aren€t very game rich etc.)
> and the typical cultivated crops don€t provide much protein. But then
> again, what makes sense to us doesn€t necessarily make sense to Aztecs
> due their completely different cultural context.

Remember a couple of things. First, unlike Old World food crops, maize
and beans (the dominant Mexican crops) provide a decent amount of complete
protein. Second, it seems likely to me that the Aztec elites ate pretty
well regardless. Insofar as there was any meat to eat (animal or human),
it would have ended up on the tables of the elites. I'd be more convinced
of a functionalist arguement that put meat on the tables of commoners.

Off on a tangent...the people who reconstruct these functionalist
arguements (a la Marvin Harris) would argue that "making sense" isn't
relevant. The Aztecs didn't say "Gee if we sacrificed people, we could
eat them and solve our protein shortage." Instead, they might
say that they make themselves one with the sacrifice by consuming
it. However, a cultural trait, like sacrificing people and eating them
could be reinforced *because* it solved a problem: a protein shortage.
(To use Harris' distinctions: The protein shortage would be an
etic explanation; Aztecs would have expressed an emic explanation.)

Julia Smith
University of Pittsburgh